By J.J. Robinson
MALE (Reuters) - The Maldives Supreme Court on Monday annulled the results of the September 7 presidential election and scheduled a fresh vote for October 20 after a candidate challenged the outcome, citing irregularities.
The Maldives, a tropical Indian Ocean resort archipelago, suspended a presidential run-off election that was due to take place on September 28 after the Supreme Court ordered officials to postpone it.
The run-off had been expected to help end months of political turmoil triggered by the removal of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was ousted from power 20 months ago amid a mutiny by police.
Nasheed had won a first round on September 7 with 45.45 percent of the vote, but fell short of the 50 percent needed for outright victory.
Four of seven judges approved the decision. The other three, including Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain, said there was no legal basis to annul the election.
Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi, who voted in favor of annulling the poll cited a confidential police report claiming 5,623 ineligible voters had cast votes, including some who were dead, under-age voters, and some using fake identity cards.
Local and international election observers, including delegations from the Commonwealth, the United Nations, the European Union and India, had declared the September 7 election free and fair.
The Maldives Election Commission, which prepared for the run-off on September 28, was forced to cancel it at the last moment after the Supreme Court ordered security forces to take action against anyone who violated its order of postponing the vote. ID:nL5N0HN31S]
The government of President Mohamed Waheed, Nasheed's successor, also refused to grant necessary funds to hold the polls run-off polls, while the Education Ministry refused to grant access to schools for polling.
The Supreme Court verdict laid down certain guidelines to the Election Commission for the October 20 polls, including giving the police a substantial role in logistics and maintaining security while demanding the commission collaborate with state agencies to secure its database.
The court set the second round of presidential poll on November 3, if nobody wins with over 50 percent of votes on October 20.
Thousands of Nasheed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters cautiously welcomed the Supreme Court announcement of the date of the polls.
"Do not worry. Now we have the election in our hands. We wanted an election date. Now we will not even have to go for a second round," MDP legislator Mohamed Nazim told a gathering outside the court.
One woman among the MDP supporters shouted at the police: "Traitors! You facilitated one coup, now a second coup, you will do it again. But we will beat you down with votes."
Abdulla Yameen, half-brother of longtime ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, came second in the presidential poll, just ahead of Gasim Ibrahim, a tourism and media tycoon who was Gayoom's finance minister.
Yameen's running mate Mohamed Jameel said there will be some guidelines that the Elections Commission must follow this time. "I think based on the judgment... the head of the Election Commission must resign as a moral and legal step," he said.
(Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez in Colombo; editing by Mark Heinrich and Christopher Wilson)